Some thoughts on flying United

Like many people in sales, I fly a
lot to visit current customers and potential customers.   I generally fly United since it has a lot of
options on the routes I normally fly (and they are one of the few domestic
airlines that has many direct international flights from SFO).  So a few observations on United:


– United has gotten a lot
better.   They have a improved a lot over
the last few years.   I've noticed a huge
improvement in customer service, friendliness, and care.  


– I always buy economy class and
actually like the Economy class on United (especially with the 2 inches of
extra legroom in economy plus).   But I
usually get upgraded (like 80% of the time) these days.   Probably the reason for getting upgraded is
that no one is buying first class tickets and so the few people that buy
business class tickets are getting upgraded to first.  And the routes I generally fly (like SFO to
JFK) have planes with tons of business class seats (unlike the SFO-BOS routes
which only have 8 business class seats and no first class seats).


– the plugs in business class can
power something small (like an ipod) but quickly shut down when one plugs a
laptop into them.   They should change


– there is no internet on
united.   And I like it that way.  


– in business class, they offer
movie players since the seats are not outfitted with media centers.   This is a good idea.  Of course, I have never actually gotten a
media player as I find planes awesome for actually getting work done (no interruptions).


– the speakers on United are really
loud.   They might want to lower the
volume a bit.   When the captain talks,
he takes half my ear drum with him.


– the food (in business class) is
actually good.   And they often serve
heated nuts as a snack (they are delicious).


– because I never buy business class
tickets, I never get upgraded to first.  
But a business class ticket was bought for me on route from Tokyo to SFO and I got
upgraded to first class (my 1st time on united).   Wow, first class was awesome.  The bed was incredibly comfortable.   Of course, I don't really remember most of
it because I was sound asleep.


– one thing united could do better:
when you check-in online or at the kiosks, they try to upsell you to buy
miles.  And it is not a good deal … one
would have to be pretty stupid to buy the miles.  And after the 40th time of not taking the
offer, you'd think they would wise up and realize I was getting annoyed with
the offer and just not show it anymore (or at least show a more appropriate
offer).  I've tried to find the option to
stop getting these offers but could not figure out how to do it online (any
suggestions would be welcome).


– they send flight reminders a week
before the flight.  That might be good
for people who fly every few months, but when you fly almost every week it can
be really confusing what flight they are reminding you of.   They should have an easy way of turning those
reminders off without turning off the check-in reminder (I'm sure there is a
way to do it, but it is not user friendly).


– they should personalize the trip
more.  Like "Mr. Hoffman, hope you
have a good flight to New York
today.   And I saw that you went to Japan last
week.  I love Tokyo.  
How was your flight?"  


– in the United P.S. business class
cabin, there is only one bathroom.   And
there is 26 business class passengers and at least 2 flight crew using that
bathroom.   So it is pretty much always
full (especially during busy times).   I
don’t know what the solution to this is but the crew might want to recognize
this and selective escort people to use the first class bathroom when it is


– every once in a while, I like to
take a quick weekend vacation.   It would
be helpful to get from United a list of all direct flights from SFO so I can
easily sort out where I'd like to go.  
Maybe they publish this, but I have not been able to find it.  


Overall — I'm a big fan of
United.   I'm sure there are many other
ways they can improve but I think they are trying and I applaud them for



6 thoughts on “Some thoughts on flying United

  1. Ben Casnocha

    Re: seeing all the non-stops from SFO — Chris Yeh and I are working with a prototype product that will do this really well. We’ll show you a demo sometime.

  2. Justin Lucas

    I fly United whenever possible. United will win over alternative airlines even if their price is 20% higher than a non-United carrier. I’ve had this rule since ’00. I’ve enjoyed economy plus since its debut.
    I don’t purchase business class seats for flights lasting <6 hours.
    I've had dozens of occasions where business required that I alter the departure time on a daytrip from SFO to LAX, SNA and SAN. United got me to each of those cities on time for meetings. When I realized that I mistakenly booked my return from SAN for the next day, the lady at United called Southwest and sent me to them to book a reasonably priced ticket back to SFO. This was a seminal experience, which validated my allegiance to United.
    Revenue Per Available Seat Mile has plunged below the level it was at following 9-11. The airline industry is doing whatever it can to boost profits following the double whammy of high fuel prices and the subsequent evaporation of air travel, particularly amongst business travelers. With unemployment so high and brokerage accounts so battered, many people have dispensed with air travel for pleasure as well.
    Air Mile Upgrade
    It's possible that United is willing to bug you at booking, because 0.001% of people seeing the option to purchase miles or an upgrade will do so. Times are hard and that's a significant boost to revenue, when drawn out over the millions of passengers booking.
    Lastly, I agree with you about the volume. My wife and I just flew to LA for the day on Saturday. I was blasted by the safety announcement. It's unpleasant, but hardly anyone pays attention to these announcements. I chided my wife over the rapt attention she was paying to the monitors advising of what to do in an emergency. But, it worked. I paid more attention to it, in order add color commentary. She was watching it to learn. Incidentally, as a rule, I count the number of rows between my row and the nearest exit. This coupled with the fact that I get an exit row on ~30% of my flights means, that we're widening our edge as much as possible whenever flying. Assuming that we are able to get out, we're in good shape.

  3. Vidar

    I used to fly United between LHR and SFO regularly when at Edgeio, and I loved it.
    In terms of “features” British Airways or Virgin are better when you compare the same class for that stretch, but what clinched it for United was that they both have useless frequent flyer programs, even though both would’ve been more convenient for me in terms of being able to use my miles from home in London.
    At United it doesn’t take more than a few international flights before you always get premier economy for the price of economy, and from then on it was a pretty safe bet to get upgraded to business at least every 3rd leg based on points alone – much more often if business was undersold or you’re paying attention to which flights are rarely full. With BA in particular, on the other hand, getting a free upgrade seems almost as unlikely as winning the lottery (I’m exaggerating – I’ve had *one* upgrade from BA, and no lottery win) – I’ve been on many BA flights where business had plenty of free seats and they still didn’t upgrade anyone.
    Business on United at least was significantly poorer quality than BA or Virgin, though I know they’ve been upgrading it significantly since I last flew it. But getting it regularly for only the cost of an economy ticket is a bargain, and always flying Economy Plus for the price of Economy after just a few flights made it perfectly tolerable to buy economy even for the LHR to SFO (11 hour) route. And once you raise up the tiers (which is easily achievable with United – I got to gold/premier executive with no problem while the same ticket purchases on BA wouldn’t have brought me anywhere within reach of even silver) you get good multipliers on the miles that gets you the free upgrades even more frequently, as well as small but nice extra perks even when you don’t get upgraded (access to the business class checkin, earlier boarding etc.). It starts making a difference when you fly enough…
    And I did get a fairly “personalized” treatment in business – I’m sure this varies depending on how busy the route is etc. though. Even some of the crew in economy plus recognized me after I’d flown a few times (sign I was flying the route too often? probably).
    The food is good in business, but again not as good as BA, though I loved the heated nuts too. United in general seems to go more for the unhealthy option where BA tends to serve very healthy, light food. On the other hand United is extremely unpretentious – where BA does everything to make business appear exclusive, United seemed to care mostly about making you comfortable.
    My only gripe about flying United is that I’m now stuck with 80k or so miles that are tricky to use since I’m based in London, but that’s not exactly their fault, and I guess it gives me an excuse to take a vacation in the US sometime soon.

  4. Adam Coffman

    I’m not that frequent of a flier, but between connections and two trips this week, I ended up with 7 flights in six days. Five were on United and two on US Airways. I have to say, I never paid too much attention to airlines, I just flew whatever was cheap, but United has sold me. Markedly better than US AIrways in many many ways. From the level of service to the overall repair of the aircraft, United was superior on all fronts. Even their website was better for checking in and making changes. I will certainly be flying United in the future given the choice.

  5. Ian Rhodes

    Found your blog while researching RapLeaf and thought I could help with this. There is a UA timetable for the PC & blackberry available here:,6867,1891,00.html?jumpLink=%2Ftimetable
    For your basic Oct-Mar sun-and-sand weekend trip here are the United nonstops from SFO:
    KOA-Big Island
    PVR-Puerto Vallarta
    YVR-Vancouver is probably the call for winter sports
    The best times for Hawaii airfares are between Labor day and Thanksgiving (now), Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as most of Q1 between new years and spring break. Low fares are also a decent leading indicator of mileage seat availability.
    Not all of these flights will be daily or year-round unfortunately. United has had nonstops to Cancun and Zihuatenjo in the past, but leisure travel to Mexico has hit hard times.
    If you’re reading this you probably have a decent number of Mileage plus miles piled up, so I will plug a service my company (ezRez Software) just launched with United: Unrestricted hotel and car bookings with Mileage Plus miles


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